Sunday, November 26, 2017

Confessions of a Full Time Dungeon Master – Volume 1

Please welcome Joe Alfano to The Qwillery!

Confessions of a Full Time Dungeon Master – Volume 1

Just imagine if you will we are in the basement of a church… or a community center. Everyone is sitting in those awful folding chairs that are ready to fall apart if you breathe wrong. Stale donuts sit in a box on a folding table at the back of the room while coffee burns in the pot. Not that it was ever really that good of coffee to begin with.

Standing up at the podium (not that you could really call it that) is a middle aged man with more grey in his beard than brown, wearing a black hoodie with a red ampersand taking up the back of it. He leans heavily on the podium, the signs of an old injury that still troubles him. “Hello. My name is Joe… and I’m a Dungeon Master.”

It is a reality I face quite a bit. I feel at times as if this hobby of mine is an addiction. One that I have been feeding for thirty seven years. It is a lot of fun to tell folks I am teaching the game at our local venue that I have been playing this game longer than they’ve been alive. Especially when they aren’t exactly kids themselves. At least one of the venues I roll at, Pegasus Games (Madison, WI), is like me – they’ve been in business for 37 years. Hell, I bought my AD&D Players Handbook from them the first year they were in business.

We’re both still here, and both still rolling the dice. But the game has grown out of my parents family room. And yes, that was in the basement. It has grown past (for the most part) the speculation of the occult nature of the game, and become a favorite pastime for families. It has also grown from something I play with a handful of friends at my house, to an event with several dungeon masters, and around forty to four hundred players.

This month I was forced to make some decisions. Some tough ones. Ones I didn’t want to make. I had way too much on my plate and I knew it. So I had to decide what I was going to cut free in the upcoming year. This was the first time where NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) was at the top of that list. Not because I’m going to stop writing, because I’m not. But because there was more of a bond between me and my Adventurers League community that with the NaNoWriMo community.

But the questions I face the most often (usually by family that think I am insane for the amount of time and effort I put into organized play), are the “why” and the “how” questions. I will answer the first in this journal, and the latter in a number of upcoming journals. The how of what I do isn’t nearly as easy as the why.

This November brought the largest entry of Adventurers League at Gamehole Con as we have ever had. The largest in the country at 61 consecutive tables of Dungeons and Dragons. At any given point in time, we would have up to 500 people playing D&D at once. How does something like that get organized? By two people, myself and a friend of mine, Thomas Valley.

Thomas was the organizer of AL for the convention when I was finally able to attend. The first two years of the convention it was set to the same weekend as Tesla Con, our big steampunk convention and the only form of geekery my wife has really embraced. So I attended the steampunk convention and waited for my time. At Gamehole Con 3 the dates finally matched up – which still had me doing two conventions the same month as NaNoWriMo. At the same time, I was informed they were looking for Dungeon Masters as the AL room had grown to 15 tables.

That was my first year of running and I ran over 34 hours of games. I played in one two hour game. At it, I met up with some people I had met less than a month earlier at a smaller regional convention near Milwaukee that I did a single day at to check it out and spend some money at their auction they were having to raise money for the family of a DM of theirs that had been killed in an accident recently. We discussed the amount of money raised and the educational fund that was being set up for his daughter.

This was the community I am talking about. I am seeing some of those same people again this year. I don’t get to spend as much time running tables for them as I have stepped in as an organizer to help Thomas. Something I started with shortly after that first outing at Gamehole Con. Fifteen tables became twenty four. We were talking about doubling the space this year but only increasing the tables by 50% - so thirty six tables. Ten months before we were going to be opening the doors on Gamehole Con 5, we saw an email congratulating us as we were getting sixty one tables – the largest single space for a single game other than True Dungeon.

This year the weekend of Gamehole Con was also the same weekend as the Extra Life 24 hour weekend. We streamed two of the Extra Life games from Gamehole Con – with the rest being done back in Renton. But that meant we couldn’t do one locally. I was at the con from 7am until past midnight every day through the con, and so were most of my DMs. (Sixty one tables, remember?) So what do I do? I plan to run ours on our normal venue weekend on the 11th, one week after. But instead of tagging out DMs and games every four hours through the event, we went hardcore – 24 hours of straight gaming. Starting off at level 1 in Tomb of Annihilation.

I originally started with two tables. One run by me, and one run by my son (and DM that took my 44 hour DM shift now that I am an organizer at the con). My other local venue organizer didn’t think I would fill out seven players. I had to add more Dungeon Masters to the roster until I tapped out at five full tables set to run a marathon game of D&D raising money for Extra Life – specifically with our funds going to the Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin. That is forty people all staying up through the night to play D&D. And we raised just under $9000.

I watched people at the convention that I ran games for my first year there ask how they could give back to the convention. They wanted to run at least a couple of tables for us – to help show their appreciation. It doesn’t hurt that we give swag to our DMs for putting forth such an effort for us either. But the real point was that they had so much fun at the convention that they wanted to help other people have fun there too. I told several people at the end of the weekend that the more players step up and offer to do even 14 hours of volunteering for the hall will get their badge covered, but more importantly, the more people I have that do that, the less people I need putting in 30-40 hours over the weekend.

I also saw celebrities from our large list of special guests come to the hall to sit in on our Golden Ticket tables, where players donated to the convention charity to play through all of our premiere content with the same party of adventurers and the same Dungeon Master. Each time slot I could, I placed a celebrity player at the 7th player seat. And due to some of our VIPs jumping in for extra shifts, I never had an open seat at those tables. Some of them even sat in on general games on our floor. I even had one run a special game for a young lady they met at the con. I will always find a table for a game like that to happen.

I have met so many great friends through Adventurers League and the precursors to it. So many that I have managed to lose some of those friends – an unfortunate side effect of getting so old. But I would never take back all of those good times I had with those friends to free myself of having to say goodbye to them. That right there is the why behind what I do. Every time.

The “how” is something even more complex. Definitely something that will take more than the 1500 or so words that the “why” is taking up. So for today, I shall leave you with this. Next time I will go into what it takes from our end to keep ourselves going and to keep the events running. Remember the aforementioned Thomas above? Well I have a couple of local versions of Thomas – that is the first clue. Or… to quote Nicholas Cage from Con Air…

“Many hands make light work. My daddy taught me that.”


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